Learning about the Greek myths and legends used to be an integral part of a classical education. Schools boys had these stories hammered into them from a young age, so it is no surprise that the characters and themes showed up again and again in the work that they later produced. These days, these stories aren’t given as much attention as we instead learn about computer programming – also a very important skill.
Want to catch up on what you missed? Learn about Greek myth through film with these 20 movies based on the stories. This is by no means a complete list, we could have come up with a list of 20 movies just about Hercules! Though he does feature heavily below as well.
In ancient Greece, the Spartans had a reputation for being the toughest fighters. They were so fearsome that a mere 300 Spartans has the ability to change the course of the Persian war at the Battle of Thermopylae. This Zack Snyder film uses superimposed chroma key techniques to make this feast for the eyes appear like the original commit book by Frank Miller as Gerard Butler leads his Spartan forces against the Persians.
While the Greek king that conquered Asia and Egypt, Alexander the Great, was a real person, the stories about his exploits are legend. Colin Farrell stars as the young general and Greek king, opposite Angelina Jolie as his conniving mother Olympias (there is always a conniving mother – though the age gap here is unbelievable). We see the upbringing the made the man, and the relationships that tore him apart as he conquered the known world.
Based on the play by the Greek playwright Sophocles, it is set in the aftermath of the Theban civil war. The new king of Thebes, Creon, calls down the wrath of the gods by failing to bury his predecessor properly. His sister Antigone buries him anyway, but when she is discovered she is sentenced to death. Irene Papas stars as our heroine.
Black Orpheus (1959)
Based on the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, this film is set in a favela in modern-day Rio de Janeiro during Carnival. Orpheus falls in love with a young Eurydice, who is on the run from death. Despite his ow betrothal to another woman, he descends into the underworld in order to save her. Starring Breno Mello and Marpessa Dawn.
Clash of the Titans (2010)
This movie is based on the story of Perseus, Greece’s most famous monster slayer before Hercules. He is eventually called on to help the gods defeat their own monsters, the Titans that they overthrew in order to gain power in the universe. Starring Sam Worthington as Perseus, Liam Neeson and Zeus and Ralph Fiennes as Hades. A sequel, Wrath of the Titans, was also released in 2012.
The first of three Hercules movies on this list, this is the Disney animated version, so it also includes some great songs. Hercules, the son of Zeus, living among mortal men for his own protection, is searching for his true identity. Memorable songs include Go the Distance, I won’t Say, and One Last Hope.
One of two live-action Hercules movies to come out this year, this one stars Dwayne Johnson as the titular character. In this telling, a jaded Hercules has turned his back on the gods and is the head of a mercenary band. But can you outrun destiny? Good, but Kevin Sorbo from the TV version of Hercules is still our favorite.
The Immortals (2011)
Loosely based on the Greek myths of Theseus, the Minotaur, and the Titans, Henry Cavill stars as the young warrior who is another son of Zeus growing up in obscurity among men, but who has the skills of a great warrior. A series of unexpected events pits him against a king, who also wants to release the Titans, the enemies of the gods, from their prison in order to gain revenge.
Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
Based on the legend of Jason, he is a hero sent on an impossible mission to retrieve a golden fleece. He gathers around him a group of warriors and they set out on a sea mission, on which they engage in many adventures. Todd Armstrong stars as Jason. Definitely better than the 2000 TV movie starring Jason London.
The Legend of Hercules (2014)
Released in the same year as the Rock’s version, this film stars Kellan Lutz as the titular character. This movie takes a lot of liberties with the stories and has Hercules, the son of Zeus, growing up as a prince and going to war in order to win a woman betrothed to another.
No story of Jason and the Argonauts is complete with Medea. She was a sorceress who became infatuated with Jason and decides to use her magic to help him. But her moral code is different from that of our heroes, and her actions bring them great trouble. This Italian telling of her story stars Maria Callas, the opera singer, in her only ever film role.
The Odyssey (1997)
Homer wrote two epics, The Iliad, which tells the story of the fall of Troy, and The Odyssey, which tells of the adventures of the king Odysseus as he tries to sail home. A journey of a few months which ended up taking ten years. Starring Armand Assante as Odysseus and Greta Scacchi as his devoted wife Penelope.
Oedipus Rex (1967)
Based on another play of Sophocles, Oedipus is a young hero who is the son of the king of Thebes, but lost at a young age, he has no idea of his heritage. Returning to Thebes as an adult, he accidentally kills his own father, and then falls in love with and marries his mother, himself becoming the king of Thebes. Thebes is punished by the gods for these unknown crimes, and as he searches for a way to dispel their wrath, he learns the horrible truth.
This French film set in contemporary Paris is based on the legend of Orpheus. He is the hero who travels into the underworld to save his love Eurydice from an unjust death. Jean Marais stars as Orpheus, Marie Dea as Eurydice, and Maria Casares as Death, this time presented as a kind of princess. Many consider this to be one of the best artistic films of all time.
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (2010)
The first of two films in the series based on books by young adults by Rick Riordan. The story pulls on many myths, but places them in a new context with modern-day youngster Percy Jackson being the unaware child of Zeus living among mortals. When his mother dies, he learns his true identity as he travels to the underworld to save her. Starring Logan Lerman as Percy.
This is technically a Roman story, but it is set in Greece during Roman rule, and it is awesome. Spartacus, played by Kirk Douglas, is a slave who leads an infamous revolt against the Roman overlords. Based on the true story of the Third Servile War. Interestingly, the war didn’t come from opposition to slavery itself, but to corrupt treatment of slaves. Different times.
This Italian film looks at the life of the Athenian philosopher, orator and politician Socrates. His enemies make false accusations against him, which lead him to be put on trial for execution. Socrates must defend himself against the charge of not believing in the gods and preaching this ideal to the young. Jean Sylvere stars as Socrates.
The Trojan Women (1971)
Set in the aftermath of the Trojan war, described in Homer’s The Iliad, this film focuses on the women who are responsible for rebuilding their lives after the death of their male warriors. The all-star cast includes Katherine Hepburn, Vanessa Redgrave, Irene Papas, and a young Brian Blessed.
For the story of the Trojan war itself, we have the 2004 epic starring Brad Pitt as the hero Achilles, Eric Bana as Hector, the crown prince of Troy, and Orlando Bloom as his young brother Paris, who falls in love with Helen and cases the war in the first place. Diane Kruger made a splash as the beautiful Helen, “the face that launched a thousand ships”.
Drawing on Homer again, this Italian film again tells the story of Ulysses and his epic journey to try and return home. Kirk Douglas stars as Ulysses, but this story focuses more on actress Silvana Mangano, who plays both his faithful wife Penelope and the sorceress Circe who is largely responsible for his woes.